Artist impression of neutron star in the IGR J18410-0535 system about to accrete a clump of matter
Credit: ESA/AOES Medialab

Clumps in the Wind

Supergiant X-ray binary systems consist of a neutron star and a massive, evolved, normal type blue supergiant star. The supergiant star is so bright that it drives a strong stellar wind from its surface out into space. Portions of that wind pass by the neutron star and rain down upon its surface, releasing an enormous amount of energy and generating strong X-ray emission. Some of these systems, the so-called Supergiant Fast X-ray Transients (SFXTs), show X-ray flares which last a few hours, which probably indicates accretion of a surprisingly dense amount of wind. Detailed observations of this process are difficult to obtaind since these flares occur sporadically. But lucky astronomers observing one such SXFT called IGR J18410-0535 with the XMM-Newton X-ray observatory saw a strong X-ray flare from the system. XMM-Newton's sensitivity provided the best details of the accretion process and indicated that the neutron star in this system must have swallowed a moon-msssed size clump. The image above is an artist's rendition of such a wind clump heading toward its eventual demise at the neutron star, a dramatic, animated process. Understanding the properties of these wind clumps aid astronomers in understanding how the supergiant component loses mass on its way to becoming, one day, a neutron star in its own right.
Published: July 11, 2011

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Wednesday, 20-Jul-2011 10:25:57 EDT